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Lindsay Barrett


The celebration sponsored by the Imo State Executive Governor recently in which miscreants who openly confessed to having perpetrated atrocious acts of brigandage in Rivers State were accorded what appeared to be a hero’s welcome and granted supposed amnestyis one of the most unforgiveable displays of official impunity that we have ever witnessed. It would have been surprising if Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike had not responded with the vehemence and impeccable sense of indignation that he did. The action announcedby the Governor of Imo State constitutes a slap in the face of his neighbour and should be grounds for disciplinary action to be taken by a serious federal system of justice. If the Attorney General of the Federation does not query the Governor over this, then the abdication ofhis responsibility will also constitute grounds for the assumption of conspiratorial collaboration between the Federal authorities and the state. As a consequence theissues raised by this announcement might reverberate with unprecedented import in the annals of the legalhistory of Nigeria for some time to come.
The handing over of arms by an army of desperadoes in Owerri was without a doubt a dramatic exhibition of Governor Okorocha’s ability to orchestrate a public spectacle,but the deeper implications of the action might have escaped the attention of those who advised him to mount the show. The major participants who brought their weapons to the field were described as having been members of a notorious armed gang based in Rivers State, and which was suspected of being culpable in the massacre of more than a score of innocent souls on New Year’s Day this year. The investigation of that dastardly event is still open and the perpetrators have been declared wanted by the Nigerian Police Force. The Rivers State Government has also declared them wanted and offered a substantial award for information leading to their arrest. In addition to this members of the gang in question are suspected of being the killers of a large number of robbery victims who have gone missing in the border territories between the two states over the last few years. These include the son of a close family friend of this writer.



With such distressing suspicions resonating around the confessed actions of the recipients of the Imo State Governor’s act of mercy it could hardly havebeen doubted that this action would provoke a confrontation between the administrators of justice in the two states. The Rivers State government is determined to search for justice for the victims of aberrant criminality in its territory. It is difficult for anyone to fault such an objective and one wonders why the governor of Imo State would knowingly take a decision that violates the principles of decency and good neighbourliness in such a flagrant manner. Some observers have suggested that there are elements of political rivalry involved in the motivation behind the Governor’s decision. If this is true then the action is even more irresponsible than we assumed at first because political irresponsibility is more dangerous than simple ignorance. The action in Imo State might indicate that there are negative factors in the relationship existing between border communities that have not been openly divulged before. For example some observers have even suggested that the brutal criminal acts attributed to the pardoned miscreants might have been ordered to be perpetrated by powerful persons in the state where they have now been given sanctuary. While we hesitate to accept any such suggestion as factual the Governor’s decision does give us reason to wonder.

So what is the way forward from this unfortunate display of crass gubernatorial irresponsibility? One hesitates to recommend what might actually be the most positive response, which would be for the Rivers State Ministry of Justice to go to court to seek the arrest and handover of the confessed miscreants to the courts in the state for prosecution. Murder and kidnapping are major crimes that should be tried in Federal High Courts and so it seems to us that this is one issue on which the Federal Ministry of Justice should take a stand and call for the reversal of the so-called pardon and demand the arrest of the alleged criminals. This action might provoke some anger in the criminal community but it would also send a positive signal to the vast majority of law-abiding Nigerians that there is no partisan sympathy being offered to perpetrators of crime. The Imo Governor’s action has tended to give the impression that because those whom he claimed to have pardoned committed their atrocious acts in territory controlled by a member of a rival party they can expect to be allowed to go free. This would be an irregular and unforgiveable violation of the norms and principles of decency in governance. It would represent not an amnesty but criminal conspiracy as an act of political promotion.